‘The Mugabe in us’; Zim’s personality cult curse

Around 2008, activist Jethro Mpofu remarked — rather optimistically — that President Robert Mugabe’s end was nigh, but expressed worry at what he termed the “Mugabe in you”.


With Mugabe having ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, it can be argued that every facet of the country is made in his image and follows his character.

Even if Mugabe were to lose elections, it could be difficult to rid the country of his legacy, which includes nepotism, corruption, patronage and tribalism.

Mugabe’s hold on Zimbabweans is so pervasive that even opposition players and civil society actors have long mimicked and replicated his rule in their own organisations.

Opposition parties and civil society organisations have been known to tinker with their constitutions to allow, particularly the founding leaders, to remain in power, with no hint of irony that they may as well be replicating Mugabe’s perpetual rule in their own organisations.

It is not surprising that even people that are not in Zanu PF and are opposed to the party have preferred factions in Mugabe’s organisation instead of expending their energies on removing the party lock, stock and barrel.

Sadly, analysts and the media tends to turn a blind eye to such obvious violations by opposition players because it is considered politically incorrect to criticise or challenge anyone because it could derail the project to unseat Mugabe.

Unseating Mugabe has become the be it and end all, with seemingly no thought of what will happen when he is gone.

Examples abound of opposition players amending the constitution to suit the incumbent, but the most prominent could be that of MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

It is beyond doubt that Mugabe and Tsvangirai are the most popular politicians in the country, but that does not mean we should be stuck with them till eternity.

This is an unpopular view, but it must be said.

Mugabe says he cannot quit now because he has unfinished business of economically liberating the country, among a host of other self-serving excuses for his continued hold on power.

Tsvangirai, or at least his supporters, say he is the face of the opposition and cannot quit before he finishes his quest of unseating Mugabe and that he is the best chance for a new president.

If you look at both these arguments closely, they are quite similar and disingenuous too.

As pointed out above, yes, the two are popular, but it is now more of a cult of personality rather than that they are the most popular to lead.

If Mugabe has not completed his project of economic liberation in 37 years, it is most certain that he will not complete it even if given another mandate next year.

Similarly, with Tsvangirai, he has been at the helm of the opposition for 18 years, almost as long as Mugabe was in power when the then united MDC was formed in 2000.

While they are both faces of their cause, a cursory glance at our neighbours shows that leadership renewal in both the opposition and ruling parties is something to be embraced.

In South Africa, for example, when Thabo Mbeki became the leader of the country, the ANC managed to score huge political victories including a two-thirds majority, which even the revered Nelson Mandela did not manage in 1994.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has moved from Tony Leon to Helen Zille and Mmusi Maimane.

Under the latter, the party won metros and provinces in local government elections, something that Leon and Zille could only dream of, yet they were seen as the leading lights of the DA and Maimane was seen as an upstart, the black face of a white party.

This shows that leadership renewal and regeneration is important in both ruling and opposition parties and may not necessarily be a bad thing.

In Zimbabwe, there is a familiarity to the politics, which has made it stale and unattractive, particularly for the young voters.

That is why when #ThisFlag came onto the scene, there was a sudden interest in politics, not only because of the message or anything, but it was something new, something millennials could identify with and it was not tainted by the stain of incumbency, which is quite characteristic in Zimbabwean politics.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai will probably stand in next year’s elections, unless something drastic happens, but they will be a sense of déjà vu in their speeches in the lead-up to the polls, a feeling that we have heard this before.

This is not a slight on either Mugabe or Tsvangirai, but rather a lamentation that the Zimbabwean political arena is stale, uninteresting, predictable and dominated by a small group of people, although this is not the two men’s fault.

But as Mpofu warned, as leaders keep holding onto their positions, they are replicating Mugabe and there is a danger that aspects of the veteran leader’s legacy that we are so desperate to leave behind us, will be part of us long after he is gone.

Figuratively, perhaps this is what First Lady Grace Mugabe could have meant when she said her husband would continue to rule the country from his grave.

His ideology is pervasive and without knowing it, some of us are beginning to mimic him and do exactly as he would.

Feedback: nmatshazi@southerneye.co.zw

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  1. I am very glad this is only an opinion piece. I am wondering what its intentions could be? My opinion is sometimes you just don’t change for the sake of it! In a struggle continuity matters sometimes. I can’t imagine changing the ZAPU leadership in the 1970s- just changing Umdhala Wethu (JMN Nkomo) just for the sake of it!

  2. “Even if Mugabe were to lose elections, it could be difficult to rid the country of his legacy, which includes nepotism, corruption, patronage and tribalism” Also including genocide whose evidence is proving difficult to obliterate.

  3. This is well written piece

  4. In nalysing the snobbish structure of our political leadership it has tobe born in our mind that leadership renewal could be a trap in itself. Look at the USA scenario. Russia had began to put inroads to exploit the inexperienced Trump leadership.Also imfighting becomes catalysed . What also comes to mind are the struggles of col Garang and indira Ghandi.who took decades of struggle for independence. We need to tread carefully.

  5. It is my opinion we are in a struggle and if you look at history across the world every struggle against injustice has an icon…..Mandelas, Mahtamas, Suus, Wilberforces, Moses, Luther, Luther King etc and it can takes years. Tsvangson I admit is not the ideal, but like him or not he has the political “mujo”. It is the imperfect who create the perfection. Has Tsvangson lost an election fairly? No. With Tekeres, Dumbutshenas, Josh in mind has anyone withstood with tenacity the Zanu/CIO/ Mugabe tyranny like Morgan? No one. Sorry, at this juncture we cannot experiment with the Bitis. In any case the members of MDC of which I am not a member have freely elected him. Join them and vote Biti in the next MDC congress.

    1. In your opinion Nkomo never suffered in the hands of Mugabe, really?

  6. you dont just change because others are changing! You need to look at the political field objectively and make appropriate political decision.

  7. Good article. I agree with the writer. People have fear of change. Just the mention of the word would scarce some people to death. It is this type of belief that has made people to think that Mr. Mugabe is the only God given ruler for this country. similarly, people in opposition also feel like that Mr Tsvangirayi is the only person that can challenge Zanu PF. Tsvangirai cannot have the bravery you may think of if he does not have people around him, nor Mugabe can have the bravery if he doesnt have the support of the people. It therefore follows that anyone with brains can be the next President. So please allow for change in leadership-its healthy

    1. CeeJay well said,i mean if a person was able to rule foe 36 years without brains what could a person with brains do. The whole mindset must change. I know i will get flak for saying this, but maybe it is time to put racism aside and consider a white man, I am not saying white rule because that would not work.

  8. the writer is well researched. Zimbabwe politics need to reinvent itself and move away from a center of power that creates demi-gods

  9. Pure political flattery, Pathetic!

  10. you say Nkomo did not suffered what gukurahundi was ment for?

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